Thursday, September 27, 2012

Black-Bottom Pecan Praline Bars

A couple weeks ago, I had the pleasure of taking the train to my roommate's family home in the suburbs. I took advantage of my first weekend away from Manhattan to spend some major time baking. After the first six weeks of being thrown into a new job in a new city, it felt wonderful to get a break back to the familiar - spending time in the kitchen, taking the chance to flip through my favorite magazines, and seeing some green again!

Reading through bittersweet, a cookbook by Alice Medrich that I received for Christmas last year, it was certainly tricky to pick a single recipe out of the collection of exquisite chocolate treats.

Between the choices of cookies, cakes, brownies, and ice creams, we eventually settled on these black-bottom pecan praline bars. The bottom half of the bars are made from half of your favorite brownie recipe, with the top half featuring a praline topping. The result is a a delicious combination of chewy, dense, chocolatey brownie; crunchy and savory pecans; and caramelized crust.

I brought these to my office after my weekend away, and they were a hit. If you want a new bar cookie recipe that feels slightly more special than your everyday brownie, you have to try this one! I would also highly recommend Alice's cookbook - it is beautifully composed and full of innovative recipes where chocolate is the star. Need I say more?

Black-Bottom Pecan Praline Bars via bittersweet by Alice Medrich
Makes 25 bars in one 9-inch square baking pan


Brownie Bottom Layer:
1/2 your favorite brownie batter recipe (without nuts).

I used the following (already halved):
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
5/8 cups sugar
3/8 cup plus 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder (natural or Dutch-process)
1/8 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cold large egg
1/4 cup all-purpose flour

Pecan Praline Topping:
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp. baking soda
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1 large egg yolk
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups coarsely chopped pecans (or walnuts)

  1. Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 350F. Line the bottom and sides of the baking pan with parchment paper or foil, leaving an overhang on two opposite sides.
For brownie layer:
  1. Combine the butter, sugar, cocoa, and salt in a large saucepan over very low heat. Stir from time to time until the butter is melted and the mixture is hot enough that you want to remove your finger quickly after dipping it in to test - DO NOT OVERHEAT.  Remove from heat and transfer to bowl, setting aside briefly until mixture is only warm, not hot.
  2. Stir in the vanilla with a wooden spoon. Add the eggs one at a time, stirring vigorously after each one. When the batter looks thick, shiny, and well blended, add the flour and stir until you cannot see it any longer, then beat vigorously for 40 strokes with the wooden spoon or a rubber spatula.
  3. Spread the brownie batter in a thin even layer in the bottom of the lined pan. Set aside.
To make the praline topping:
  1. Mix the flour and baking soda together thoroughly and set aside.
  2. Combine the melted butter, sugar, and salt in a medium bowl. Stir in the egg yolk and vanilla, then the flour mixture, and finally the nuts. Drop spoonfuls all over the top of the brownie batter (they will spread and cover the brownies entirely during baking).
  3. Bake until the edges of the topping are well browned and cracked, 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool completely in the pan on a rack.
  4. Lift up the ends of the parchment or foil liner, and transfer the brownies to a cutting board. Cut into squares.

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